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From the pages of 'The British Tarantula Society Journal'

Top Tarantula Tips

Richard C. Gallon

Over several years of tarantula keeping I have accumulated numerous practical tips which I hope other members will find useful. Some of this information may seem old-hat to many experienced keepers. However, when I look back to my beginnings I can remember that such advice was exactly what I wanted to know.

My first spider was a Mexican red-rump (Brachypelma vagans) This was purchased as a spiderling for the princely sum of 3 UK Pounds. It took three weeks of pocket money to raise the cash to purchase the specimen. Now some six years later this is a large, impressive example of its species. I would thus advise young members to start their collections off with species which take a relatively long time to mature. All Brachypelma (except B. mesomelas), Grammostola, Phryxotrichus and Aphonopelma species would make good starter species. By starting your collections off with these species you will then obtain good sized specimens in the future, which if purchased as adults would cost the earth. These terrestrial (ground dwelling) spiders also tend to be slower moving and less aggressive than their arboreal (tree-dwelling) counterparts. One drawback with these starter species is urticating hair. If these spiders feel threatened they will throw a cloud of itch-causing hairs into the air. To avoid this one must not knock their containers whilst the lid is open. The Chilean roses (G. cala and G. spatulata) tend not to throw hair as much as the others and would thus rank as the best beginners' spiders.

As I remember, I then began to want larger, faster-growing species to add to my developing collection. The Trinidad chevron (Psalmopoeus cambridgei) was the species I turned to. Being arboreal I found its behaviour a welcome change to the terrestrials. As a spiderling this species is not unduly aggressive, however as it grows it becomes very aggressive and care must be exercised in moving this fast species from container to container. This species like all non-Avicularia arboreals does not possess urticating hairs.

As my spiders grew I had to move them up into larger containers. At first this seemed a daunting task as I pictured the lightning speed of P. cambridgei and the barrage of urticating hairs from my terrestrials. I found that by transferring them from one container to another in an empty bath tub I had more control over proceedings. A useful way to encourage transferal is to place the new container next to the old. By filling the old container with water the spider will abandon its retreat without aggression or hair-kicking. Often the spider will simply walk into its new home on its own. This is not always the case! A long, blunt pea stick can be used to prod the spider (gently on the legs) into walking in the correct direction. I also found that a jet of water from a plant mister could also produce the same effect. It is important to note that spiders can run up the sides of the bath, but they do tend to stop before leaving the confines of the bath. It is also useful to have a glass jar on hand so that one can re-capture spiders by covering them with it and sliding a card under them.

As my collection grew I found that I had many large aggressive species which needed cleaning out. Barbecue tongs were found to be ideal for removing prey remains. When live crickets had to be removed there was no option but to use hands. To prevent the spider rushing from its retreat and biting I discovered that hitting the substrate hard with a pea stick informed the spider that my hand was not food but a possible predator instead.

I began to want to see my spiders behaving as they do in the wild. By forming deep depressions in the substrate I persuaded many terrestrial species to create burrows. African and Asian species were found to readily burrow, with Americans being more reluctant to do so. Better results were obtained from large juvenile specimens than with adults. The arboreals readily accepted hollow tree branches but in the humid tanks these rapidly gained a shroud of mould. several coats of clear, water-based, matt varnish rectified this problem (note: allow the varnish to fully dry and the smell to disappear before use). Once installed in their natural set-ups I hardly ever saw my spiders. By reducing their feeding they were persuaded to display themselves more often. In m) neo-natural tanks I found vermiculite totally unsuitable as it looked unnatural and could not support burrows (note: in its dry state, vermiculite dust is a potential health risk to the user!). I turned instead to fertiliser-free coconut fibre and sand mixes. These worked well until my supply of coconut fibre dried-up. I now utilise a mix based on fine composted bark, sharp sand and moss peat (please use as little of this as possible in order to prolong the existence of peat bogs). This mix works well and also crops various toadstools, which add to the effect.

As ones experience and interest grows you will probably find yourself specialising in a group of similar tarantulas, be it the Brachypelma~ Bird-eaters, Poecilotheria or Avicularia. Many collectors find it particularly interesting collecting species from the same geographical area. We now find ourselves in the domain of the so-called 'rare' species. If one intends to breed these 'rare' species you will probably have to obtain or rear the pair in the first place, as the chances of locating a male in the future will be low. These collectors' species tend to be prohibitively expensive as adults. This and the former hurdle can be overcome by purchasing a number of unrelated spiderlings of your chosen species. By retarding the growth of males one can obtain mature pairs for the future. Often the first spiderling batches of new, rare species are expensive, however as more broods are produced the prices will usually drop so its often worth waiting before you buy.

Many keepers who breed spiders soon find themselves with large numbers of spiderlings. It is often difficult to house and regularly feed all these. By housing them together in a large tank furnished with ample hiding places (cork bark) one can set up a self-feeding system. A split banana and a colony of fruit flies can be liberated within, replacement of the banana will create a self-replicating food supply. As the spiderlings grow one can release appropriate sized crickets into the set-up (these won't self-sustain). At your convenience one can remove the juveniles when you feel they are at a saleable size. Some cannibalism will occur in the set-up, but if the tank is large enough and ample food is available this will be limited.

I hope that other members will divulge some of their top tips in future Journals. If anyone wishes to elaborate, criticise or comment on any of my tips please feel free to do so via the pages of the Journal.

Copyright 'The British Tarantula Society', 1996,2007

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Last Updated: April 04, 2007